Posts Tagged With: nitrogen infusion

Breaking Breakfast Barriers at the SFA (2016)

[This is Part the Second of my throwback series, reminiscing about last year’s Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium as I prepare for the 2017 iteration.]

The Wife and I just returned from this year’s Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium.  I have decided that this once-a-year weekend full of food tasting, food knowledge, and a touch of food frivolity is akin to college football season: when it’s over, we just kinda’ live for the next one to start.  This year’s theme was “Corn as Symbol, Sustenance, and Syrupy Problem.”  I had no idea how much there was to know about corn.  This new hat I’m wearing – Corn Expert (check out my authority here) – is liable to keep me pretty busy.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, so let’s start there.  Our first morning began with Royal Cup Coffee out of Birmingham.  The Wife likes to get the fancy stuff, like lattes and cappuccinos.  I’m not averse to waiting for pour-overs when I have the time, but my favorite beverage from the Royal Cup truck is the nitrogen-infused cold brew.  I’ve lauded this coffee a number of times before – it’s cold (but not iced) and it’s strong (but not bitter).  And somehow, miraculously, it needs no cream or sugar.  But wait – there’s more!
This time I learned a little more about how it’s made.  With Royal Cup’s “tap” the coffee is infused with the nitrogen as it is dispensed, which helps keep the nitrogen from over-interacting with the coffee in the tank.  And instead of carrying around giant nitrogen tanks, they have a machine that generates the nitrogen from the ambient air.  It’s true that I mostly care about how great the coffee is, but my inner nerd did find that fascinating.  Now, on to the eats.
Breakfast number one was performed (because it’s art, people) by Chef Edouardo Jordan of Salare restaurant in Seattle, Washington.  Yes, we know that is not in the South, but this gathering draws folks from all over.  He’s actually from Florida (which by some accounts is not in the South, either, but I’ll leave that for a later debate), and the menu at Salare lists the American South as one of the influences.  Case in point: one of the first things you’ll see on the menu is Pork Trotters served with Collard Greens.  Chef Jordan was also listed as one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2016.  So his Washington license plates didn’t really cause a stir, and no one asked him to produce a birth certificate.
There were no pig’s feet to be seen in our breakfast, but it was nevertheless unique: Okra Stew with Whole Duck Confit, Berbere, Egg and Cornbread.  One of the hallmarks of the SFA is to break down barriers, so that we can understand each other more fully, more fairly.  Other folks do that, too – we just do it over amazing meals.  This one helped break down the barrier of what someone “should” have for breakfast.  “Egg” was the only thing I recognized from previous morning meals – never had okra, duck, or cornbread that early.  Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend, and I’ve been to Ethiopia several times, which – oddly enough – probably means that it’s the only other component of this dish I may have eaten for the morning repast.  Barrier broken: okra stew for breakfast is a winner.

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These are a few of my favorite things…

At a corn conference, how do you top the idea of serving cornbread for the first meal of the day?  How about corn granola and a corn pot pie?  That’s not exactly what Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois of Blue Smoke restaurant in NYC called them, though.  The Roster of Eats and Drinks for Day Two listed them as Andouille Breakfast Pot Pie and Corn Granola Custard Parfait.  The pie did have an egg hidden amongst the corn and sausage, tucked under a beautiful crust, therefore: breakfast.  The custard had a bottom layer of fruit and was topped with the corn granola – imagine your favorite crunchy, nutty granola, then add crunchy kernels of corn.  Who would have thought the words “corn” and “parfait” would go together?  Or “egg” and “pot pie”?  And for breakfast to boot?  Not me, for sure.  But I won’t forget them, and would order them at any opportunity.

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Breakfast on Day Three is always tough.  It’s the next-to-last meal of the weekend.  Mere hours from its consumption and we’ll be counting the days till next fall.  It would be sadder if the food wasn’t so wonderful.  Chef Jeremiah Bacon from The Macintosh in Charleston, South Carolina, keenly kept to the theme of “You’re giving us WHAT for breakfast?” with his Tabasco Clam Quiche.  My primary experience with clams is of the fried variety, so I truly did not know what to expect.  Tabasco I can deal with – I don’t always put hot sauce on my eggs, but it’s a familiar concept.  And if you Google “breakfast quiche” the hits are legion.  Clams, though.  Clams not crisped with fried batter, or stewed in chowder.  Again, however, my trepidation was for naught.  Chef Bacon did us right and brought a little Charleston sunshine to our last day in Oxford.

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One might say, who would want (fill-in-the-blank with okra, duck, corn or clams) for breakfast?  Once upon a time I may have leaned in that direction.  But somebody had to be the first to eat shrimp and grits in the morning, be it a citizen of South Carolina’s low country, or of Mozambique (the true origin of that dish, per culinary historian and symposium speaker Michael Twitty.)  As a matter of fact, somebody had to be the first to eat a fried egg in the morning or decide that milk on corn flakes was a good idea.
So let’s raise a glass of nitrogen-infused cold-brewed Aztec organic coffee to the chefs who broke down those barriers and broadened our breakfast horizons.  Cheers.

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Good Morning, SFA – Symposium 2015

 

It’s fall in Mississippi, and it’s one of my favorite times of the year. Football is in full swing, which tends to cause great havoc to my heart rate, and due to my loyalties to the hometown rival, can create a hostile work environment on the occasional Monday. It’s also the season for freaky weather. On a recent weekend I arrived in Oxford, Mississippi, one of my top three American cities, only to be greeted by a ninety-plus degree afternoon. The next evening I was wearing a heavy coat. (Huh?) Fall may also be the best season for Sunday drives. As I typed this, The Wife was at the wheel (she not only edits, she chauffeurs when I have a deadline). Fall colors are beginning to creep into the treeline, cotton fields are snowy white, and the ruddy orange of the sweet potato crop is beginning to emerge from the soil. For me, however, the pinnacle of autumn is the Symposium of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

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The Symposium has many layers. It is in part an academic conference. The SFA is housed within the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the Ole Alma Mater, and among other staff there is a professor devoted to the study of Southern foodways. Some of the lectures we hear are condensed versions of dissertations and scholarly articles presented by Ph.D.’s. Peel away another layer, and you find a family reunion. Chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, grocery store owners, and folks who are simply fascinated by all things culinary, all get together for this long weekend because – well, we just like being around each other.
It’s also very much about the meals. Even the most celebrated, James Beard Award-winning chefs are equally thrilled and filled with dread at the prospect of feeding this crowd. There are nine meals that fill the weekend, and each has its own story. We shall commence with breakfast.

Day One: Wildflour Pastries

Day One: WildFlour Pastries

Breakfasts at the Symposium are usually standup, casual and often served in brown bags, but that doesn’t mean any less work goes into them. On the first morning of the conference we arrived at the historic Lyric Theater to a bevy of brown breakfast boxes filled with the creative baking of Lauren Mitterer from WildFlour Pastry in Savannah, Georgia. The eye-catcher was a caramelized pecan sticky bun with cream cheese frosting. This was no wimpy little hint of glaze, like one might smear on a canned cinnamon roll. It was a thick swirl of white, crowning crunchy pecan halves, with the sticky bun serving as a solid foundation. Though I generally maintain a take-it-or-leave-it opinion when it comes to pecans, these were crunchy enough to provide a nice textural contrast between the copious icing and the sticky sweet roll. Slightly more savory was the fig, bacon, and goat cheese mini-quiche in another corner of the box. My relationship to goat cheese is off-again, on-again – it tends to be a stronger flavor than I can generally embrace. But in this pastry, the sweet fig and briny bacon worked well with the hint of sour-umami that the goat cheese delivered.

Day Two: Revival Kolaches!

Day Two: Revival Kolaches!

The second morning found us break-feasting outside on a campus lawn, with the early morning temps re-assuring us that fall might actually be coming. A table full of brown bags awaited the crowd, this time filled with kolaches. I occasionally see kolaches advertised in our area, but my first taste was in Central Texas, where Czech settlers likely introduced them many years ago. In my brief acquaintance with kolaches, I’ve seen them in basically two forms. They may look like a buns or rolls filled with breakfast meats of some sort, similar to a pig in a blanket. The other iteration has a bite similar to a cinnamon roll with a dollop of fruit or cheese filling on top. Our bags had one of each, brought to us by Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber of Revival Market in Houston, TX. The meat-filled kolache was laden with spicy boudin sausage (boudin in a blanket?) saving me the need for the saltine crackers I normally use as a vessel for breakfast boudin. They called the other one a Satsuma kolache, which had a cream-cheesy filling flecked with bits of Satsuma mandarin. The Wife went back for another one of those, and I did my part to help her make it disappear.
One of the speakers on Saturday talked about Cracker Barrel. The theme of the weekend was “Pop Culture: Who’s selling, who’s buying, and at what price?” and there is a lot of pop culture at Cracker Barrel. According to her research, the fine folks at the Barrel essentially invented the Hash Brown Casserole. For breakfast on the final morning, Chef Corbin Evans of the Oxford Canteen reinvented it. He called it Skillet Hashbrown Breakfast Taco Casserole with Salsa Verde and Crema (not in a brown bag or box, but on recyclable brown plates). I am not what you would call a frequent flier at Cracker Barrel. But if they had any part in the inspiration of this Latino version, then I am at least deeply thankful.

Day Three: Canteen Casserole

Day Three: Canteen Casserole

The food may change every morning, but there is one consistent factor: Royal Cup Coffee. In our home kitchen we have a collection of coffee tumblers that the Royal Cup folks provide for Symposium attendees each year. We pretty much wear them out. Over the years they have added the option of pour-overs, and an espresso-fueled truck. (Okay, that’s an embellishment – but you can get espresso drinks from the truck.) This year they also added a nitrogen-infused cold brew. I usually prefer my coffee sweet and creamy, but this cold brew didn’t need any add-ons. I was astounded and amazed. And after two of them, very much awake.

Royal Cup Brew-Mobile

Royal Cup Brew-Mobile

Stay tuned; lunch is coming.

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